From "Picture Taker" to "Photographer" – Part 1 – Attitude

May 12, 2010

Through the magic of services like Twitter and Facebook, I’ve come into contact with a lot of folks who take pictures.  Some do it for fun, some do it for a living… but most do it for reasons somewhere in between.  I am one of those photographers myself.  I doing it mostly for the love of the craft and occasionally make a little money doing it, but it is, to be very clear, not my sole source of income.

When I come across an image I enjoy, I do my best to let the author know, as long as I have a means of doing so.  But what often strikes me is the responses I get.  Recently, I commented on an image with simple praise of the composition.  The response I got was: “Ha!  I took that with my son’s point and shoot!  Glad you like it!” (that’s a quote).

At first I wasn’t sure what the point behind the response was — to mock?  to gloat? to be thankful?.  Regardless, it got me thinking.  What is it that sets apart the person who “takes pictures” and the person who is a “photographer”.

And the answer (to me) is thus:  possessing the passion to improve

If you ask an any one of the hundred of thousands of young folks toting head-shots in my city of Los Angeles right now how they defined themselves professionally, you’d get two answers “I’m an actor” or “I’m a waiter… but I am looking to act”.  Look… I’m well beyond the rose-colored glasses era of my life… I don’t positively believe that “if you work hard and love what you do… all your dreams will come true”.  But I also believe that if you say you’re a waiter.  Sooner or later, that answer isn’t going to bother you quite as much as it should (unless you actually love being a waiter — and if you’ve ever been to Musso & Franks… those gentlemen were BORN to be waiters and I’ve never experienced anything like the service you get at that restaurant — and yes… that’s a compliment.)

So… what makes me an authoritative source to the degree that I can even pretend like I can dole out such advice?  Because I… very frequently IGNORE EVERYTHING I’m saying here – I’ve paid the price for it.  I would not for a second presume that it is the goal of everyone who has picked up a camera to do it professionally.  Hell… just because you like a game of golf doesn’t mean you want play on the PGA.  When you cross that line to where what you love becomes a necessity to the point that your house, nourishment and family’s welfare are now dependent — you may find quickly that you don’t love it quite as much as you thought you did.

But… I do assume that we all strive to be the best __________ we possibly can be given our natural God-given ability, our level of education, the limitations of our situation (available time) and the limitations of our hardware.  But if you’re not trying to get better… you’re not really trying.  And THAT is what separates a “pictures taker” from a “photographer”.

This will be the beginning of a series I’m going to put together which is directed at those walking the line between “picture taker” and “photographer”.  It has very little to do with ability or success… it does however have everything to do with passion.  As we move forward, please know this… I am not preaching from on high… I am trying to organize my advice so that I can heed it right along with you.

Over the coming weeks, I will be covering various topics as we move forward.  Each will be designed to help those who find themselves being addressed here, to think about some of the more tangible aspects of this dichotomy.  I invite your thoughts, praise and of course… criticism.  Let me know what you’re thinking — if you agree or disagree and why.

Coming Soon – Part 2 – Equipment
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